Thursday, February 04, 2010

Southern California Newspaper Calls for Greater Transparency at CIRM

Another negative newspaper editorial popped up this week concerning the California stem cell agency. The piece called for more accountability and openness on the part of $3 billion research effort. And, the editorial said, if the agency goes to court to fight reforms, lawmakers should place the proposals on a statewide ballot.

The article in the Riverside Press Enterprise cited recommendations from the Little Hoover Commission, the state's good government agency, and the Citizens Financial Accountability and Oversight Committee, a sister agency to CIRM. Most recently, the citizens committee last week called for some reforms, a move that triggered a less than favorable column – for CIRM – in the Los Angeles Times, the state's largest paper, and a harsh editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Riverside editorial said,
“California's stem cell research agency is not a private fiefdom, but a public entity answerable to taxpayers. Legislators should follow the recommendations of a state watchdog, and impose rules that would bring accountability and openness to an agency spending $3 billion of public money.

“Those steps should start with restructuring the agency's governing board to provide more independence, reduce conflicts of interest and hold members responsible for their actions. And the Legislature should oblige the agency to make decisions more transparently when awarding research grants.”
The piece continued,
“...(N)ot surprisingly, the institute has been dogged by widespread suspicion of conflicts of interest. The agency says that board members abstain from voting on matters that affect them. But the need for frequent recusals suggests an inherent structural flaw in the board,

“How the agency disburses money is largely hidden from public view, as well. The institute only identifies those grant applicants who collect money. But publicizing all the applicants, not just the successful ones, would protect against self-interest or favoritism in funding decisions. Connecticut's stem cell program follows that practice, and so should California's.

“The stem cell institute claims that most of those reforms would require a new ballot measure, but that argument is suspect. The measure allows the Legislature to make changes that further the intent of Prop. 71. Steps that provide greater public trust and protect against insider dealing surely further the agency's mission -- not to mention the public interest.

“And if the agency goes to court to fight such reforms, the Legislature should simply put them on the ballot.”
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